BY SARAH MESSNER
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Professor Loren T. Stuckenbruck was literally born into a theological milieu at the University of Tübingen in Germany. His parents, Earl and OttieMearl Stuckenbruck, were founders of the Institute for the Study of Christian Origins at the university, which united the Protestant faculty on campus and attracted some of the most well-regarded theological minds of the day. As a young child in Tübingen, Stuckenbruck recalled sitting at the knee of such theological greats as Hans Küng and Jürgen Moltmann. “Tübingen was the place to go for theology,” Stuckenbruck noted with pride.
When the Stuckenbruck family returned to the United States, Loren’s father assumed a professorship at Milligan College in eastern Tennessee. Loren eventually attended Milligan himself, where he learned Greek from his father, but had little desire to follow in his footsteps. Loren had grown up to become an accomplished concert pianist, specializing in Chopin. It wasn’t until he sustained an injury to his shoulder, which prevented him from playing, that he began to seriously consider scholarship as a vocation. “I figured that if I couldn’t play the piano, I might as well study the Bible,” Stuckenbruck said. He began to learn a number of ancient languages, discovering a new interest in biblical studies, and the realization that he wanted to “get under the skin” of Second Temple Judaism.
It was during his undergraduate days that he met PTS Professor Bruce Metzger, who was delivering a series of lectures at Milligan. “I decided that I wanted to be in a place where I could learn from him,” said Stuckenbruck. He began his studies at PTS shortly thereafter.
Early in his first semester, Stuckenbruck had to temporarily withdraw from PTS on medical leave. He received a “wonderful, handwritten letter” from Metzger, “telling me how sorry he was, and expressing his belief that ‘all things work together for good for those who love God.’” The letter offered encouragement and inspired Stuckenbruck to continue his studies independently while he recovered. For the remainder of that year, he studied Hebrew, Latin, French, and piano, before returning to PTS with renewed vigor and focus. “It was because of that letter,” Stuckenbruck said, “that I came back.”
After graduating from PTS, and with a Ph.D. on the horizon, Stuckenbruck was awarded a Fulbright grant to study Semitics at the University of Tübingen. The grant was renewed for an additional year, and Stuckenbruck continued his studies at the University of Heidelberg before returning to PTS to pursue doctoral studies in the New Testament. He taught full time at the University of Kiel in Germany for two years while he completed his dissertation on angel veneration in ancient Judaism and early Christianity. He was then appointed to the faculty at the University of Durham (England), where he taught biblical studies for fifteen years, and was head of the faculty, prior to coming to PTS in 2009.
Today, as PTS’s Richard J. Dearborn Professor of New Testament, Stuckenbruck teaches courses in biblical studies, including biblical exegesis, Second Temple Judaism, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and apocryphal literature. His wide-ranging research interests include early Jewish wisdom and apocalyptic thought, Semitic languages, demonology, and the problem of evil and suffering. “I am constantly amazed at the breadth and depth of Professor Stuckenbruck’s knowledge—not only on the Dead Sea Scrolls, but on a wide range of subjects,” said Ph.D. student Chris Hooker, who took Stuckenbruck’s seminar on the Dead Sea Scrolls. “He can field questions on numerous issues, citing by number and verse the manuscript fragments that directly address the question at hand. He is truly an intellectual asset for the Seminary.”
Stuckenbruck is also one of the few experts in Ge’ez (Ethiopic) in the American academy. His knowledge of Ethiopic informs Stuckenbruck’s understanding of how the Bible was received in New Testament times in Ethiopia. “What many people don’t realize is that the Horn of Africa was one of the most literary cultures of the fourth century (CE), and many ancient Jewish texts are preserved only in Ethiopic.” Stuckenbruck has collaborated with other scholars across religious and national backgrounds from Ethiopia, Europe, and the Middle East. “In a Protestant seminary such as PTS, which stands in the Reformed tradition, my place is to enhance the ecumenical context within which the institution takes its stand.”
Stuckenbruck takes pleasure in introducing literature such as the Dead Sea Scrolls to his students, and sees non-canonical texts as being in conversation with the Protestant Bible. By stepping outside of the canonical box, Stuckenbruck said, “I am free to look at familiar texts with new eyes, and to see things in the Protestant canon I didn’t see before.” In this way, extracanonical literature “becomes a serious conversation partner in shedding new light on our current understanding of scripture.” Through the Dead Sea Scrolls in particular, Stuckenbruck sees the Jewish population at the time grappling with the problem of evil, political oppression, and the complexity of their own culture. “My interest in this literature is as much autobiographical as it is an interest in ancient literature: my encounter with this literature is a mirror to myself.”
At the end of the day, Stuckenbruck hopes that his students will likewise be inspired to use these ancient texts as mirrors.
Sarah Messner is a junior at PTS. She works in the Communications/Publications Office as an editorial assistant.